The Story Behind Every Song On Gang Of Youths’ Inspiring New Album angel in realtime.
In one sense, bands do not make albums like angel in realtime. anymore: earnest arena rock with an indie spirit, artfully conceived but populist as hell. In another sense, no one has ever made an album quite like Gang Of Youths LP3: a story about grief, family, indigenous identity, and a father’s secret life, sewn together from countless musical, emotional, and philosophical threads. People throw around the word “cinematic” a lot when discussing music, but rarely has an album played out so much like a movie, from its sprawling mythology to its steep emotional stakes.
In 2018, Gang Of Youths frontman Dave Le’aupepe’s father died of cancer. He’d always been guarded about the life he lived in Samoa and New Zealand before settling in Sydney and starting a family, and on his deathbed, he hinted that there were secrets to be discovered in Polynesia. Le’aupepe and his wife traveled from London to follow those breadcrumbs and made a stunning discovery: His father had abandoned two sons and disappeared to Australia in the 1970s, leaving everyone back home to assume he was dead. For Le’aupepe, the news inflamed an already complicated emotional state, undermining the heroic stature he’d always afforded his dad but also helping him connect with a side of himself that had always felt distant and off-limits. Traveling to his ancestral homeland and meeting his secret family was a revelatory experience, one that transformed his state of mind as he considers the prospect of parenthood himself.
Gang Of Youths translated this phase of upheaval and epiphany into some of the most vivid, tender, ecstatically alive rock music in recent memory. Think the National with much of the ennui replaced by starry-eyed wonder, Arcade Fire but lighter on their feet, the 1975 if they were just as heady and ambitious but approximately 50% less online. Early single “the man himself” matches breakbeats with old field recordings of Pacific islander hymns, yet it’s powered by the same hearty passion and anthemic sweep that made Gang Of Youths such a big deal in their native country. Another single, “tend the garden,” somehow pulls off its goal of melding an Avalanches-worthy beat with Marvin Gaye-inspired psychedelic soul. In a phone call last week, Le’aupepe cited the influence of Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, David Gray, Steve Reich, Hillsong worship music, and Accelera Deck — an obscure Alabama electronic producer he discovered through his friendship with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew — and you can hear it all in these songs.
Put simply, this is the closest thing to classic U2 I can imagine existing in 2022 — yet that comparison undersells what a singular sound and feeling angel in realtime. achieves. The album is a breathtaking piece of work. It makes me feel like a kid discovering big-tent rock music all over again, even as it delves into subjects that can only be truly grasped with the passage of years. You really ought to listen to it, ideally while reading my interview with Le’aupepe below.
1. “you in everything”
I understand this is the first song you wrote for the album, while you were in Wellington, New Zealand searching for your brothers?
DAVE LE’AUPEPE: I believe it was the first song that I completed, but I was working on a bunch of other ones that just kind of weren’t fucking hitting the mark, I think, lyrically. And I think I just kept passing sort of weird, strange reminders of my father, even good things that I hadn’t been familiar with before. Just being in New Zealand was a distinct reminder of my dad. And seeing old Māori and Pasifika men just sitting around in Auckland in their own communities is really evocative of that spirit of my dad.
And I think I needed a way to express that with sort of a repetitive pop sensibility. A lot of the instrumentation was formulated out of a desire to start the record with this sort of Steve Reich-ian style music — this pulsating contemporary American minimalism type thing. It’s always sort of been in the back of my head when I write a Gang Of Youths song, I try to use principles from the four great American minimalists and countless others, including John Adams and whoever. But the formula was laid out for this one. It was probably the most direct approach in terms of referencing all of that shit.
But I think lyrically I just wanted to sum up the rest of the record. I like this idea of having a dramatic overture that feels like a cinematic prologue to the rest of it, and lyrically it sort of references what the rest of the songs are about. I like those kind of self-referential meta-type records. There’s a really great one that’s just come out by Yard Act called The Overload. They’re an English band, and they’ve got this kind of continuity of texture and continuity of theme. I really like records like that. So, yeah, that was the first one that I did. And we did like fucking four or five versions of it. But this one was the one that stuck, and we just kept building and building, and Tom Hobden our violinist made a really beautiful arrangement for it. I’m weirdly into this one. I don’t know why. It’s a fucking long and arduous journey to get to the end of it.
In your notes for the media you mentioned the influence of Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” on this song as well. So when you talk about doing four or five different versions of a song, that certainly fits with that album’s whole vibe of building it up and tearing it down.
LE’AUPEPE: All great indie rock begins with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I love Summerteeth, but I just can’t get past that album… That first track, it’s barebones, but sonically it speaks to this otherworldly type of trials that I think that band were trying to get at. And the real thing for me in that fucking song is the drumming. Glenn [Kotche]’s drumming is absolutely phenomenal and outrageous and strange and almost reflective of this — I don’t want to use the word primitive pejoratively, but sort of a primitive style of drumming that I think Donnie [Borzestowski] was really moved by. And so we tried to replicate some of those moments. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s a fucking huge reference for me, just in general.
2. “in the wake of your leave”
This one is also inspired by Steve Reich. Having that foundation adds a certain artful quality to the songs. You’ve got these kind of hearty, earnest rock songs, and then you wove in that American minimalism seamlessly in a way where it really elevates the music to something more than your average rock song.
LE’AUPEPE: It’s a really weird thing because I think maybe I’ve always struggled with a sense of feeling like I’ll never be fucking good enough to mean anything. So with that, I think I processed the album with a huge sense of abandon: Well if that’s the case, and it probably fucking is, then just dive into the things that deeply, deeply fucking move me. And this one was kind of that. The lyrics are obviously about the undulating rise and fall of grief in life and how you end up missing it when it’s gone. I mean, thematically, it’s got its context. But I was listening to the Variations by Steve Reich. The big one that I was really into was “Shiviti Hashem L’negdi” which means “I place the eternal before me.” And I feel like there’s a beautiful poetry about it. I love the way the vocals in that particular piece are constantly repeating and referencing the next sonic template or the next texture. I really love that. So that’s kind of what we wanted to do.
But on a broad scale, I think a lot of the minimalism stuff and the classical music references is sort of coming out more and more because I think we had a choice. Like, do we continue with low-stakes indie-rock bullshit? Or do we try and be fuckin’ cool? Or do we go kind of meat and potatoes and try to fucking jam our fingers through the glory hole of commercial success? And I don’t think any of us wanted to do it. I think there was a deep sense that we wanted to at least aspire to something artistically but also make music for the people. And I think there’s a few lessons in that that I’m maybe sort of proud in the work we leave. Because, like you said, it is like this confluence of the, I suppose, the high-minded fucking Juilliard School sensibilities, but also there’s a melody there. I do think that’s important for us, the collision of these kind of high-art things that were deemed too good for people like me, us lowly low-status types mixed with maybe this collective anthemic-type thing. I think we tried to weave that thread throughout the whole album, the high and low art, making something beautiful and interesting but also accessible.
There’s so much coming together on this one. You’ve got the Auckland Gospel Choir and the Cook Islander drummers and you’ve got the strings. The amount of thought and detail that was put into it really paid off.
LE’AUPEPE: We had a crossroads because we were flying Peter Katis over to help us out with some stuff and our amazing producer Peter Hutchings, and they were really influential in this song in particular. But I think we had to come to a point where were we just going to go generic, and I don’t think we really wanted to… I think looking for complexity in songs that are simple and pop in terms of the structure and sensibility, I think adding layers and kind of making this big maximalist dreamscape was was the point of this one. You kind of want it to feel fucking almost — I’m not a huge fan of musical theater to be honest, but I always wanted it to feel like a fucking musical theater revue, you know? Or maybe something more like a John Waters vibe, sort of campy. But it’s still got that kind of post-punky type drum feel, which gives it that vibe. I hear a lot of indie rock albums, and a lot of them aspire to greatness through complexity and texture and ambiguity. And I think we just kind of went the other way and aspired to greatness through layering and fucking producing emotion.
3. “the angel of 8th ave.”
This one is about meeting and falling in love with your wife in New York, and then moving to London with her. Can you talk about the role that she plays within the fabric of the album?
LE’AUPEPE: My wife was kind of my partner in crime and my confidant during the whole discovery of this endless-seeming story of my dad and my family and shit. But also she helped nurse my father in the last six weeks of his life. She was there when I showed no emotion to anyone else, but she saw all that. And I think relating my dad and that whole thing back to the fact that I was living overseas — I was living in London with this girl that I fell in love with in New York. The song I think gives a sense of place and context for why the album and London are so intertwined, and a little bit of the parts of New York. I talk about her again in another one, “unison,” coming up. I referenced her in the first song, “I held my wife beneath the stairs, I fucking cried” or whatever. And I think this is in continuation of the fact that loss and grief and losing a parent is not a solitary act. You’re involved in it with others, and my wife was there to kind of witness the whole thing.
I do love the sentiment behind the song. I’ve always wished I came to her as a fully formed person and not some fuckin’ hackneyed mangled fuckhead that I was, like this sullen dark void of a person. But she’s proven to me time and time again her mettle as a human being, especially when she was looking after my father with me until he died. So I think it’s suggestive of that. And also I think it’s waking up in London every morning knowing that I at least didn’t fuck up my marriage.
How did you guys meet in New York? And had you already moved to London at the time when you met her? Or how did you end up in London?
LE’AUPEPE: I was picking up my stuff from my sister’s house, which is where I was keeping it because I’d go to New York for months and months on end and fuck off after tours. And when we met, I kind of knew pretty much instantly that I would really love to marry this person. And then a fucking blizzard hit and I ended up postponing my trip to London. I was on the way to London, basically just picking up my shit. And then, three or four days after knowing her, I asked her if she wanted to move, and she said she’d think about it. And it was weird, because I’m usually pretty reserved when it comes to anything like that. But I guess when I met her it was hard to stay that way. And she took a big risk on the big time because I’m a fuckin’ musician who’s had various, you know, weird things happen in the past. So I don’t come out of it not scarred.
But yeah, we moved to London. It took us a little while to work, because we’re pretty in love with it now. And our life looks like it’s here now. She used to say, you know, let’s fucking go live in Tbilisi in Georgia. But I guess that’s kind of how it’s worked. We met in New York, and she actually offered to do our hair for the band. And in lieu of me wanting to get a haircut, she’s like, alright, let’s just hang out. It seems whirlwind and romantic in my head, but maybe it’s not to other people.
I understand this one is about feeling burned out doing a bunch of shows after your father died? That’s what the “I’m only in it for the money!” hook is about.
LE’AUPEPE: “returner” was about me doing fuckin’ 21 gigs in 30 days in Australia, on this kind of record run, which I consider a shame and a blight because I wish I could have been my very best. But I wasn’t, I was sick as a dog and not going going well and really grieving my dad’s death… It’s called “returner” because my fucking job as a musician is to fucking yield returns. It’s kind of meant as a tongue-in-cheek thing. I was originally watching a bunch of sports resignation videos — like retirement speeches, like Michael Jordan and Francisco Totti from Roma — and sort of wondering like, fuck me, I wish I could just quit my job and just like, fuck off like these guys at 35 or whatever. And the song itself is about my dad. I think it’s when we start delving into, “Oh, he’s actually dead. Let’s explore that.”
This is probably the only song that’s inspired by both Premier League football and Broken Social Scene. The song mentions former Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto, and you’ve talked about taking inspiration from a conversation with Kevin Drew about the that time in your life when you don’t know what you’re going to become, longing to kind of get back to that sense of mystery about yourself.
LE’AUPEPE: When he was in London, we liked to take these long walks. And hd just mentioned missing the old days: “I just miss not knowing what we’d become.” And that really stuck out to me. Every bit of advice that he’s given me fucking stuck out. Usually I’m shit and can’t retain basic conversations I have with people, but that stuck out to me. We’re not spring chickens anymore. I’m not that fucking young, stupid 19-year-old staying out with the boys, looking at stars hoping you’ll become one of them. I’m a bit more sensible about my approach to things. But I think “returner,” that time my life is a distillation of all those dreams coming crashing down. It’s 2018, my dad is dead, I hate my fucking job at this point. We reached a certain pinnacle in Australia where — it’s my home country and I fucking love Australia, I fuckin’ love it — but we reached a point where it was getting really unsustainable for me to want to be there long periods of time because of the profile thing. Success is scary. And so that was when the whole thing fell apart. And I didn’t have my dad to moan about it to. And I feel that my dad is the only person in my life and my therapist and my wife who I didn’t feel like I was inconveniencing by telling them what the fuck was going on inside. And then Kevin became that person after a while.
My dad is huge sports fan. I’m a huge sports person… growing up, I played a lot of football, and I watched a lot of Italian football like every other fucking kid did. And so these sort of images become really salient dramas, I suppose, to kind of pluck musical shit from, lyrical shit especially. Assou-Ekotto, he’s famous for saying he hated football and only played for the money. He wasn’t overly into football, necessarily. He treated it as a job. I think my approach to what I do has sort of shifted — maybe a few years before that, it sort of shifted to this idea that a trade is a craft. And the fact that you find yourself in some privileged position is just, it’s just the curse of the gods, the job of the universe rather than something that you deserve.
This is inspired by when you went to Samoa, and you had a couple of landmark experiences with your wife, right?
LE’AUPEPE: I’m someone who tends to — maybe it’s the Christian faith in me, but I tend to spiritualize beauty. Whenever I see or hear something beautiful, I tend to consider it as part of some fucking elusive spiritual diadem hovering in the sky that I can’t quite get. But it started off with the fucking sea turtles. We were canoeing around them, like my ancestors did. It was funny to think that about 4,000 years ago my predecessors were doing the same shit that I was. And then we got fucking horribly burnt by the sun. But yeah, there were all these sea turtles. It was just me and my wife and the sea turtles in unison, and it was a nice sort of poetry behind it and just kind of a simple image to me to be able to craft something. No fucking shit, I swear to God I was like, “If I died right now — my wife, she knows I just love the shit out of her.” I hope she would know that. If it’s the last thing I ever did, I’d want her to know that I was with her the whole time. Because obviously, if you’re a married person, maybe you go through those moments of total desperation, not being able to convey how much you love the other person. I think just the surrounding area being involved, the specific terrain dreamscape made me think more about what made me think more about this concept than I had previously in our marriage.
The other time I was frolicking around by myself, and my wife said, “Hey, you look like you belong out there.” And also she said, “I think we’re starting to find some parts of you that I didn’t know existed,” like a flesh-and-blood connection. There was some spiritual and emotional thing with the sand in the water out there for me, frolicking in the water looking up at the purple sky.
There’s a line on this song that you return to a couple of times, “it takes and it takes” or “he takes and he takes.” It reminded me of a song by Sufjan Stevens. I was wondering if there was any connection there.
LE’AUPEPE: Always. Always. It’s interesting because Sufjan and I have similar influences. I’m speaking of Sufjan like he’s a fucking mate. He’s like a luminary, right? But yeah, I think even the chord progression there’s a little nod to Sufjan, and the trumpets.
I think Come On Feel The Illinoise was profoundly influential… Those melodies and those feelings and that kind of wistful, nostalgic, almost twee but not quite thing always appealed to me. Those kind of Reich-ian influenced moments and cadences and chords stuck out to me. And maybe it’s a little nod to Sufjan lyrically and melodically I think. It would have been hard for me to be a musician if it hadn’t been for that explosion of amazing North American creativity that was happening during the early 2000s. It would have been hard for me to become a musician.
6. “tend the garden”
This is one of the songs written from your father’s perspective, and it almost seems like an of overture of his life story.
LE’AUPEPE: Yes, a little bit. Did you ever did you ever watch any Terrence Malick type — Days Of Heaven or The Thin Red Line or Badlands? I love the reflections and the voiceovers for Terrence Malick’s characters, they kind of give it to you in a monologue. And sometimes, like in Days Of Heaven, it’s the little girl, Linda, she’s like the little sister character. It’s all very stream-of-consciousness, but it’s got this kind of swing to it. And I love the idea of having sort of like my dad’s voiceover, but with like this fucking psychedelic Marvin Gaye-influenced instrumental.
My dad was a big cat. Big fella. And I know he thought and felt deeply about things, but he wasn’t prone to showing them because like any man born in the ’30s, he was a bit uncomfortable with sharing those sentiments out loud. He was able to cull that into something beautiful, which is a garden. I wonder if he was thinking about the life and activity he left behind. And I think that’s why I wanted to write it. It helped me judge him worse maybe in terms of his shitty decision-making in terms of leaving his family and sons and his culture behind. I think that song for me is just learning how to step in the shoes of my father, the man, not my father, the dad. I’m almost 30, and the sudden and horrific realization that your parents ate, shit, fucked, and, like, had things they hate, they had dreams, and they had aspirations and they’ve been irrevocably crushed by life themselves, is quite fucking harrowing.
I mean, it’s shattering. And I think that was my like — no matter how much I want to judge this sneaky bastard for concealing all this stuff, he had his reasons… The best thing to do is try to imagine what he might have been thinking. And knowing my dad as well as I did in terms of his day-to-day and his thought process, I think I might have got there in the end. He was a man — he took on projects because I think my dad saw art and beauty as a way of making up for past mistakes. Which may be a flawed approach to living, but in terms of it being an understandable thing, I totally get it.
7. “the kingdom is within you”
LE’AUPEPE: This one’s a fucking weird one.
I know the racial identity themes seem to be involved in this one: “White kids say they sympathize, but they’re afraid to look me in the eye.” This is another one sung as your father?
LE’AUPEPE: I think my dad sort of stands in a catchall, emblematic, allegorical way as a character for this generation of Pasifika and Māori people. And I guess other generations of indigenous people around the world who were moved around or exploited for their labor and exploited for their bodies. I think I didn’t want to make too much of an issue around the express political ideologies that you’d associate with stuff normally — that’s part of the reason why “White kids say they sympathize…” I think it’s very easy to dehumanize an individual’s story by brashly and irresponsibly associating it with more political intent than is absolutely necessary. The tokenizing of struggle from all backgrounds, all sexual identities, all gender expressions — I think for me, I recoil at the idea of this narrative being exploited for purposes just to serve social capital, instead of the human cost of those things. The patronizing — I don’t want to use the term white gaze, but whatever, the patronizing sympathetic glances from well-meaning neoliberal type, institutional type characters.
I think there’s that element there that I think I’m trying to speak to — the human cost, a man or a woman or any person of that generation of that ethnic disposition going into a country where, you know, people of your race are the indigenous people, and they’re also being exploited. I realize this is fucking confusing or whatever. But I think this song’s more or less trying to convey the human, and the cost of an individual when you’re in these scenarios.
New Zealand has a troubling history with police aggression against Pasifika and Māori people… There was a lot of police harassment. There were these things called the “dawn raids.” I encourage you to Google it. Quite fascinating history. An organization called the Polynesian Panthers modeled on the Black Panthers began to try and help Māori and Pasifika people, specifically people with legal issues. And so I think it’s a lot of stuff around there that tries to uncover a little bit of what not necessarily what my dad would have personally gone through, although he may have — but it’s more about the overarching sentiment towards Pasifika and Māori people at the time, and how that probably affected my dad’s decision-making later on.
You’ve talked a little bit about how you never really felt allowed to see yourself as Samoan and that you got more in touch with that part of your identity as you were tracking down these threads from from your your dad’s life. Does that factor into the perspective you’re bringing into this song?
LE’AUPEPE: Yeah, I think definitely. If you’re mixed-race, oftentimes people on the nonwhite — my mom’s Jewish — it’s the nonwhite side of mixed-race communities that tend to be a little bit harder on them. And that was sort of my experience for a little bit. And I think growing up in a pretty diverse, relatively working class sort of area in Sydney, I didn’t really have a lot of time to deal with, I guess, how that made me feel. I was just expected to act white to fit in with the factory workers’ kids or whatever. And then occasionally at church or at school or at rugby, I’d mix with Pacific Islanders. But I think, yeah, there’s a bit of an injection of that anxiety around acceptance throughout the whole record. I think fuckin’ maybe part of this whole album on some subconscious level is about me trying to get them to accept me, as fucking weird as that sounds. Like, “Oh, this is my fuckin’ ticket to not being called a half-breed,” or whatever. And I think because we worked and dealt with so many luminous people in the Pasifika and Māori community to make this record, it’s given me, I guess, a bit more license to feel and identify with my family. Because there’s been Pasifika people in my life who’ve expressed a distrust of my wanting to see this. And that’s come from people in the church or whatever. There was that element. But there also have been people who have been really encouraging in my life about it, college friends… This band was started by two Pacific islander guys. So I think I think there’s always been a part of me that felt like I was going to explore, but I wasn’t ever really comfortable about it until I met my people.
8. “spirit boy”
This also, I guess, has bearing on “spirit boy.” This was inspired by a healing ceremony that you went through. You’ve also mentioned Christian faith and having a Jewish mother, and I’m wondering about how all these different spiritual threads fit together. It feels like “spirit boy” is a good jumping off place for that.
LE’AUPEPE: [laughs] First of all, Pasifika and Māori people are heavily Christianized to quite an extraordinary extent. In terms of indigenous people groups who are receptive to the gospel, you couldn’t pick an ethnic group more ripe for it. That culture and our own mythology, just Calvary and the gospel fits in so fucking beautifully. Which is why 70% of Māori people are expressly and outwardly Christian. And obviously, I’ve retained my faith over my whole life, purely because I didn’t really see many complications or contradictions in myself about it. But I think this is sort of a syncretistic approach to it.
I’ve used this guideline which is the emotion, the feeling of my father gone. This kind of weltschmerz, anhedonia thing I was going through after he died — nothing really makes sense except watching shit TV and walking along the canal in London. But I guess all the anhedonia and weltschmerz is sort of crystallized. And maybe I was able to move past it because I had this very important powerful experience with this wonderful woman. She performed “rongoā” on me, which is this special, traditional healing process. In that moment being embraced by this kind of otherworldly Māori, deeply Polynesian experience, that sort of broke through to me, I think, more than anything before. And this woman was Christian as well. They synchronize a lot of beliefs. They do match up rather nicely, like I said before.
That experience was worth referencing. The collision of beliefs to me makes perfect sense because, I mean, there’s Abrahamic faith that I grew up with, and there’s this ancient, ancient pantheon of gods in the Pasifika space. They work really well together, because I’m able to pick and choose the stories and the language that feel good together, that make sense together. I mentioned the sea god Kanaloa a few times on the record because I’m always drawn to this idea of an actual god ruling the sea, being this inescapable presence in my life, kind of following me around. But also how that applies to my Christian faith I still have to grapple with. And that’s an interesting thing for me. So I think “spirit boy” is about that grappling as well.
Also, the other component is that I was dealing with all this internal questioning and writing songs while I was living in London, which is, back in the day, the colonial base. The London Missionary Society, they colonized and Christianized the Pacific. So there’s a tension there that I like exploring. But I think more than things having to make absolute total sense, it’s more about the stream-of-consciousness referencing of ideas that feel beautiful, and together. Does that make sense? If it was going to be some fucking philosophical treatise, I don’t know if it would work. But I kind of like to choose little aphorisms from my own spiritual life and apply them. Plus we’ve got that great spoken word by Shane McLean, who’s an amazing Māori multi-instrumentalist. And that’s probably my favorite part of the record at the moment — a really beautiful distillation of the spirit life of the fucking song.
I think it really works to keep this one as minimal as you did. I was stunned to learn that it was five-plus minutes long because it feels so engaging for a song that musically is mostly staying in the same mode. But I think that has a lot to do with the quality of the storytelling that’s happening there.
LE’AUPEPE: It’s weird, I wrote that when I was in Auckland with my cousin’s family and we were actually recording with Shane McLean and the Cook Islander drummers. And I sat down at the piano and I just felt this weird desire to try to distill my family’s story into a simple piano ballad a la Paul Kelly, a la Archie Roach, a la Joni Mitchell, obviously, one of my greatest idols. Tom Waits, fucking Nick Cave — there’s a romance of the ballad for me. And I think I’ve listened to so much music that was trying to be so fucking groundbreaking and made attempts to break new ground, the fucking great indie rock albums that have come out that everyone sort of raved about, and I just sort of shrugged my shoulders kind of like, “Fuck it. I don’t want to attempt to do that for my family’s fucking story.”
I kind of made it feel like a lullaby. Like, I use repetition a lot. Obviously, it’s a minimalist trait. There’s almost something naive about the melody in my ear. And I guess the naivety kind of betrays a depth, maybe, in the lyrics that I didn’t realize was there until after we recorded it. And then people give me fuckin’ feedback. And obviously, people need a fucking break from all the wanton bullshit that we put in every single song. [laughs] It’s like 60,000 layers, like 200, 300 tracks. But I think there’s a beautiful little poignant thing about that song. But I still struggle to listen to it because it’s so fucking exposed and I’m humiliated at my shitty singing and just the dodgy production on it. But it does as a song work, I think. And it brings a lot of justice to my brothers, in terms of hearing their stories. And maybe there’s some divine spiritual reason why I want to tell these stories. I don’t fuckin’ know. Maybe I’m just exploiting everyone. But there was something satisfying in showing them that song, and they said, “Thank you so much. That’s exactly how it happened.” I love being able to convey all this stuff in sort of a simple lullaby-esque thing.
I like the idea also that by kind of just getting it out there that some of the worst choices that your dad made, the idea that you get something out into the light and that’s how you’re able to kind of experience absolution for it.
LE’AUPEPE: Yeah, it’s like “the truth will set you free” type shit. It’s something a little biblical maybe. I think my dad wanted it to come out one way or another. But I also think he didn’t want to be alive to find out what shit would hit the fan. But I think it’s important that my brothers’ story is heard, and my dad’s story. Because like I said, this is really profoundly common in Black indigenous circles. These aren’t unusual stories. Back in that time, they were the norm. And maybe it brings some divine healing and rest for my dad’s soul, because I know it’s brought comfort to my brothers. Because they fucking deserve it. In general, man, I’m a musician, and I’m a pampered privileged prick now. I’m not a little scrappy working-class dickhead like I was. I’ve moved past that. And I think for me, I don’t really have the credibility to be able to tell my stories now without the overarching sentiment of, “Oh, yeah, but you’re still a privileged fucking asshole.” But my brothers, I don’t want the world to forget that wonderful people like them and my sisters exist — because they don’t give a fuck about, you know, public profile, like being in a band makes you feel. And if I can be a conduit for it — like I could write an album about my brother Matthew, I could, like tell the guy’s full story. I think this is just a bit of a gesture toward the right thing.
If I’m understanding this right, this is about how your dad helped you when you were really on the brink, and helped you many times, and how, as he was dying, you felt like you were able to reciprocate that at last.
LE’AUPEPE: You used the word “absolution.” It’s about guilt absolution — and redemption, I suppose, but on a small scale. The song “Magnolia” did fucking well back home. And I’m weirdly fucking proud of it. Because I hate most of stuff I’ve ever done because I’m a critical self-deprecating asshole. But “Magnolia” still speaks to me because it’s just the uncoolest thing in the world. It’s just this bleak song, but it has this truth and vibe about it that I do really love performing and love hearing. That day I did something that was more sinister when I was off to go and end my life. I didn’t say goodbye to my father who was like the one person in the world that I should have at least said goodbye to. And I’ve always felt guilty about that. And I’m comfortable saying that because it’s so relevant to the song. I like ruining the meaning of songs for people. I enjoy saying, “This is what it’s about. Go make up your own fucking thing.”
But yeah, I just kind of always had this very Steinbeck, like, caught up in good and evil and redemption and shit. Like I thought… I might somehow make up for just being a frustrating person. And I still to this day think that way… Maybe there’s more grace for anyone, but I still haven’t quite got that in my fucking big skull. So the song’s about trying to make it up to him, I guess. Just being by his bedside, on the floor, giving him shots. Like maybe there’s something about caretaking that sort of generated some kudos for me in the good books of God. That’s obviously not particularly doctrinally sound, but I think it’s the guilty conscience thing.
This song actually really turned out because I discovered David Gray. I had never listened to him growing up.
I heard a little bit David Gray on the album, but I didn’t know if that was an influence or not.
LE’AUPEPE: I’d never listened to him before. If it wasn’t like hardcore punk as a teenager, or something that every record-store dork was talking about, I just didn’t really pay attention. And then our radio guy at Warner said, “Hey, do you know this song?” And he sent me “Please Forgive Me.” I was like, “Fuck, yeah, I know that shit.” I definitely never paid attention to how amazing that fucking song is. It is a cracker. I thought it was strange because it’s kind of like Ibiza-style. So I’m pissed about it. And I came into work the next day in our little studio, and I was just fuckin’ furious. I was like, “Boys, why the fuck did no one tell me that David Gray was so good?” My wife was like, “How the fuck do you not know?” And I walked in, and I was like, “Why can’t we make shit like this?” And then “forbearance” is born.
It was born out of another song. The song kind of nearly existed, but we changed it to feel more akin to this kind of late ’90s Ibiza type sound, maybe with a bit of strings. And it worked. I guess it kind of captured the way I wanted the song to feel more than any other thing. It’s still kind of forward-thinking, but it kind of falls back on the typical fucking Gang Of Youths bullshit, for the peanut gallery, give ’em what they want. But yeah, at the age of 28 I discovered David Gray, like some idiot.
11. “the man himself”
There’s so much complexity and nuance to the samples on this song and why you chose them. Can you unpack that?
LE’AUPEPE: We used a whole bunch of samples. But the main ones we focused on are indigenous recordings from the Pacific recorded by a wonderful composer, and kind of an adventurer, named David Fanshawe. And his wife Jane has been really amazing in helping us repurpose some of his work. So we’re using a bunch of David Fanshawe recordings. And David Fanshawe, he was English, so he wasn’t indigenous. But he had this belief, I guess a fear, that these really sacred and important oral histories would be lost to time or lost to imperialism or lost to colonialism or lost to capitalism or whatever. So he was very concerned with that, and he wanted to make sure that they were recorded for posterity, for my generation of people, lest something happen, some horrible event that wipes everything out.
This particular one is an imenetuki. An imenetuki is a Cook Islander hymn that is polyrhythmic and a very very complex choral arrangement not dissimilar to a Philip Glass piece. They’re highly minimalist in terms of aesthetic and structure. And they’re using these modes that have been common in our people for hundreds of years. And they have harmonic similarity to a lot of Western music, which is kind of why I was attracted to them. Not just for their sheer beauty, but also for the similarity to a lot of the stuff that most people would listen to in a modern standard. And obviously the repetition, the constant repetition, using samples hip-hop style, ensuring the drum and bass are fucking loud and they lead the hook. The hook in this track is sung by people from the Cook Islands. That was exciting to me. An historical sample and a drumbeat.
I wanted to have some kind of frantic breakbeat. The feeling of the breakbeat for me is the feeling of skateboarding over hot coals. It’s jagged and risky but I love the idea that you can build some kind of musical tapestry, musical tower, and then it looks like it’s going to fall over, but it doesn’t. Or when it does, you catch it immediately. And that’s the sort of feeling the breakbeat gives me, the vision of it in my head, I suppose. But yeah, a lot of these recordings were just kind of laying around on compilation discs and stuff. Our engineer and co-producer Pete Hutchings introduced me to the work of David Fanshawe. So I felt like I was getting more in touch with my heritage just by listening to this guy’s fuckin’ recordings, becoming more aware of this amazing stuff that was out there that was reminiscent of who I was. And that was pretty cool.
But the song itself, the drums lead the way. It’s pretty nasty because the chorus itself is nine bars, it’s not even bars. There’s a few time changes in the middle. So it’s kind of a quirky single. But a lot of the breakbeat feeling that I wanted for the record came from this artist Accelera Deck. Kevin Drew introduced me to this artist just randomly when we were up drinking. The song’s called “This Bliss.” I would encourage you to go listen to this album, it’s called Narcotic Beats by Accelera Deck. This is the fucking shit that I wanted to make my whole fucking life like. This album’s like 23 years old, 1998. This musician Chris Jeely from Alabama. Birmingham, I think. He has like 2,000 listeners, I think, on Spotify. Not much. But I just heard the future, for me. And just the lightness of feeling. The drums sound swift. They sound light and energetic, like a great footballer. Like a great midfielder. They sort of bounce around. There’s this kind of ballet-like swiftness to them. Hearing the whole record and this particular song, it was like, “Oh shit.” I know exactly what I need to do with “the man himself.” Cause we had this big discussion about what I wanted the record to sound like, and there was this playlist with a whole bunch of weird stuff on there. But it was finally completed with the addition of this song. It was where I wanted to go.
You’ve said this song is about how scared you are to bring kids into the world without your dad around. I like the idea of you imagining your kid in the kitchen and there’s this painting of your dad kind of presiding over the family even though he’s not there bodily.
LE’AUPEPE: I’m scared to imagine having kids, not because I don’t absolutely love them because I do. I’m just going to be a fucking shitty parent. How am I going to tell kids to obey their teachers and cops when I didn’t fucking do any of that shit? I am not a particularly disciplined person, I don’t know how to administer it. I can do all the fun stuff. When it comes to respecting people’s shit and authority or whatever, I’m going to be fucking hopeless. I remember the way that my dad parented me after a certain age was pretty amazing. And also this feeling that if I’m even a quarter of the father that my dad was for me for the majority of my life, then maybe my kids won’t be all fucked up. It’s been a hard thing to think about. It wasn’t that my dad was, like, a leader. It was just that he was a gentle and affectionate man. And I really respect affectionate, warm people, especially men. My dad was a big hulking man, he was a big lad, but he was still warm and cuddly. And that’s the version of him I think I’ll miss, this grandfather to truly love my kids. And even when they fuck up, I still want my dad’s advice for how to deal with it.
12. “hand of god” & 13. “goal of the century”
The last two tracks are more like one really expansive song. They’ve got the football theme tying them together. It’s almost like one movement of music, right?
LE’AUPEPE: Yeah, it’s supposed to be one whole song, but we split it up into two because I had the idea of putting a dash, “hand of god” / “goal of the century.” Diego Maradona, when he scored the Hand of God, the most villainous goal in World Cup history, four minutes later he ended up scoring one of the most beautiful goals in football history. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or what.
There’s a line you’ve written to sum up the metaphor with Maradona and your father: “Out of shit and villainy there might be something worthy to behold.” I love the idea of paralleling this guy who cheated and then all of the sudden four minutes later he’s playing the game to the best of anyone’s ability.
LE’AUPEPE: My dad spoke of Maradona with a lot of affection because he fucked the English over. I think my dad got a kick out of that. It’s this idea that it was all happening then and there but we still talk about it… We’re still talking about things that were important then and there in that moment. I think, I don’t know, maybe there’s some more philosophical underpinnings that I’m missing. It’s just about how life goes on even though we can’t do anything about past glories and past failures. “I have to go on.” There are sports guys who burn bright and fade out. Like Maradona spiraling out of control in his personal life. To say he’s controversial is an understatement.
My dad’s not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s still capable of beauty. He produced my sister and my brothers. He gave me a strong sense of values… He embodied the collision of the miserable and the wonderful, my old man. And I think that’s kind of what I’m trying to get at.
“goal of the century” is kind of an interesting one because it’s sort of me talking about the actual process of writing the thing and worrying, “Is this website going to give me five out of five?” “Am I fucking cool?” And then realizing that none of that fucking mattered to my father, so why should it matter to me? It’s just me telling my dad’s truth and telling the truth of myself and telling the truth of my family. Like what is the specter of credibility when you’re faced with true real things in life? Like what is it? It doesn’t really exist anymore, does it? It’s just a little ghost. “goal of the century” is about weathering through it and being able to find some fucking true bliss to speak about myself, my faith, my dad, my family, and my ethnic identity. Because I’m a shit and villainous person most of the time too, but I might actually be capable of something half-decent.
angel in realtime. is out now on Warner/Mosy.